Enrollments in private health plans on Healthplanfinder, the state’s online insurance marketplace, surged past 65,000 as applicants hustled to beat the Monday night deadline for coverage beginning Jan. 1, Washington Health Benefit Exchange officials reported Tuesday.

Nearly 69,000 others have completed the enrollment process, but haven’t arranged payment, and another group of undetermined size has begun applications that are in varying stages of completion.

If a large percentage of those applicants take the final steps, total enrollments in private plans through Healthplanfinder
could top the state’s target of 130,000 enrollments in 2013. But Michael Marchand, spokesman for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, the operator of Healthplanfinder, said he’s not betting on making the target.

“I don’t have a good handle on how many may come back to complete the application,” he said. “It’s hard for me to gauge.”

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Getting close to target-enrollment numbers is important both for private insurers and the Health Benefit Exchange, which must be financially self-sustaining by Jan. 1, 2015.

A state deadline extension announced last week will give extra time to people who began applications, but weren’t able to complete them by Monday night’s deadline. They have until Jan. 15 to complete their applications and pay to secure coverage for January.

Exchange officials said that 20,000 people enrolled in private health plans from Friday (Dec. 20) through Monday, with half of those enrolling on Monday. More than 50,000 people visited the site that day alone.

Medicaid enrollment also has been robust. State Medicaid officials projected they would meet their target of 120,000 newly eligible enrollees this year through the expanded Medicaid program. As of Monday at midnight, about 100,800 people newly eligible for health insurance through the state’s expanded Medicaid program had signed up.

Almost half of those were transferring from the now-discontinued Basic Health program or were presumed qualified for a federal assistance program for the disabled. An additional 47,500 enrollments were from those who previously qualified for Medicaid under the old rules — primarily children — but had not been signed up. And more than 88,000 people already covered by Medicaid renewed their eligibility.

Nearly 180,000 additional applications, both for Medicaid and for private health plans, were deemed to be “in process,” but state officials did not have a breakdown for those applications.

Marchand said Healthplanfinder has had more than 1 million unique visitors. “We’re very happy with the interest we’ve seen in this state,” he said.

Marchand praised the exchange’s community partners, who have helped people sort out choices and sign up for coverage. He added praise for other state agencies, insurance brokers and the insurance carriers, who voluntarily accepted the late date for payments as the Healthplanfinder and its customer-support telephone lines bogged down with glitches and heavy traffic.

The exchange and insurers are now working to create a process to avoid a coverage gap for people who are trying to sign up for coverage for Jan. 1, but haven’t been able to complete enrollment, Marchand said.

People have until March 31 to sign up for insurance to avoid penalties under the federal Affordable Care Act.

The state Office of the Insurance Commissioner has reminded people that if they think they might qualify for a tax credit, they can buy a private plan outside the exchange now for coverage in January, depending on the insurer’s deadlines, and switch to a plan sold on Healthplanfinder before March 31. Washington Apple Health (Medicaid) does not have an open enrollment period, so people will be able to apply and renew coverage at www.wahealthplanfinder.org throughout the year.

Questions about Healthplanfinder should be directed to the toll-free Customer Support Center at 1-855-923-4633; Apple Health questions can be directed to the toll-free hotline at 1-800-562-3022 or emailed to AskMedicaid@hca.wa.gov.

Carol M. Ostrom: costrom@seattletimes.com or 206-464-2249. On Twitter @costrom